First LDS Missionaries to Hawaii Found It to Be Anything but Paradise

 

Salt Lake City—The first Mormon missionaries to the Hawaiian Islands found themselves in for culture shock. Between confrontations with scantily clad and aggressive women, difficulties in learning the language, impatience with native habits, a flirtatious mission president, and infighting among one another, only the most stalwart of the American missionaries persevered. All of this and much more makes up the story of Francis “Frank” Hammond, who from 1851 to 1865, served proselyting missions to Hawaii.

Written by Hammond’s great-great-grandson and retired Kent State University professor John Hammond, Island Adventures has been called “a fascinating lens into the world of the nineteenth- century Pacific” by Washington University Professor Laurie Maffly-Kipp. Matthew Kester, Professor of history at BYU-Hawaii calls this work an “engagingly written examination of nineteenth-century mission life,” one “grounded in solid scholarship and an array of primary sources.”

Leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) began sending elders to Great Britain, Europe, and Australia in the 1830s and to French Polynesia in 1848. In 1850 apostles Parley P. Pratt and Charles C. Rich chose eight men working in the California gold fields to open Mormon proselyting in Hawaii. They landed at Honolulu in December. Hammond, a former whaler who had already spent three years at Lahaina (Maui) was a logical choice when a new group came over several months later. He and his wife, Mary Jane, and several others arrived as part of the second wave in August 1851. The Hammonds stayed six years, and Frank served a brief second stint in 1864 as mission president.

Although the missionaries made converts at an impressive rate, natives who rose to the ranks of church leadership found it difficult to adjust to puritan sexual norms. The missionaries made nemeses among Protestant missionaries but found themselves on friendly terms with Hawaiian royalty. The greatest tragedy they faced was the 1853 smallpox epidemic that killed thousands of natives, a catastrophe made worse by fierce opposition by Mormons to vaccination. The missionaries reasoned that the outbreak was the will of God and any healing would come through priesthood blessings. The missionaries likely helped spread the disease through bodily contact required for priesthood administrations.

Proselyting success waned and church membership diminished, leading to the closing of the mission in 1857. Four years later, however, Brigham Young sent adventurer Walter Murray Gibson to tend the church, but who bilked the members out of their money, while elevating himself to the status of a divine savior. According to Church Historian Andrew Jenson, Gibson “surround[ed] his own person and residence with such a halo or sacredness, in the minds of the natives, that they always entered his house on their hands and knees.” Hammond’s return in 1864 was, in part, meant to clean up the mess.

Based on the journals of Frank and Mary Jane Hammond and the writings of several missionary colleagues, Island Adventures tells an amazing story of both native life and the Hawaiian mission experience by those who were there and lived to tell the tale.